“Disability doesn’t just mean being in a wheelchair.”
That’s the message English blogger Sam Cleasby hopes readers take away from her piece in the Metro U.K., which describes what happened last week when the Sheffield native was refused usage of a handicap bathroom at a concert stadium.
The mother-of-three was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2003, and had a colectomy and ileostomy in 2013. Due to the procedures, she wears a medical device known as a ostomy bag to collect waste from her body through her stoma – a surgical opening in the abdomen.
While the bag – also often called a colostomy bag – can be concealed, it “needs to be emptied regularly and can require changing out in public if it leaks,” she wrote.
Cleasby was at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester last week when she needed to change her bag. But upon asking a stadium official to let her in the accessible toilets, she was denied.
“She looked me up and down and told me that the toilets were only for people in a wheelchair,” Cleasby said.
Even after explaining her condition, Cleasby was shot down. “She refused me access to the toilet, telling me to speak to another guard back in the grounds if I wanted to complain,” she said.
England allows people who experience disability or injury to purchase radar keys, which lets them unlock accessible toilets. Cleasby says she had forgotten her key that day.
Another guard eventually let Clesby into the toilets, so she could enjoy the concert by English rock band Stone Roses – who were reuniting after a nearly 20 year absence.
Cleasby says the refusal is a problem with having an “invisible disease.”
“People see me as an able bodied woman and assume that I have no disability, but going out and about with an ostomy bag can be really scary,” she said.
“The fear of leaks or accidents is enough to make you want to stay home,” she continued. “Facing people who are unwilling to help and ignorant makes life so much harder.”
She added: “People are educating themselves more and businesses are learning that they need to train staff on accessibility and disability, but all too often, those of us with invisible disabilities are ignored, abused and denied support.”
Cleasby spends time writing and speaking out about her cause, on her blog and on social media through the hashtag #MoreThanMeetsTheEye.
“I know the pain and embarrassment that IBD can cause,” she said on the site. “I know how it affects quality of life, work and relationships. This blog is about shouting out about our disease and spreading the word. It is about YOU not feeling alone, it is about breaking taboos and sharing experiences. It is about living with a stoma and speaking out.”